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Hunan Province is also known as "Xiang". The Xiang Opera, a major local opera in Hunan Province, was formed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and is popular in parts of Hunan and Guangdong provinces, in southern China. The opera was based in the capital Changsha and in nearby Xiangtan city, hence the name Changsha Xiang Opera.
Kunqu Opera is one of the oldest forms of opera still existing in China, with origins dating back to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). It is distinguished by the virtuosity of its rhythmic patterns (called changqiang), and has exerted a dominant influence on all the more recent forms of opera in China, including Sichuan and Beijing operas.
In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kunqu opera, and Yiyao Gaoqiang (a branch of southern opera formed in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), were introduced to Hunan Province. The local dialects and folk music were incorporated, leading to the creation of Xiang Opera.
Xiang Opera has 12 types of roles such as Sheng (male role), Dan (female role), Chou (clown or comic role), and 'flower-face' roles (a popular name for jing or male roles because of the elaborate facial paintings used). Non-martial scenes are accompanied by instruments like flutes and yu-kin, an ancient stringed instrument. Percussive instruments accompany martial scenes.
There are more than 300 Xiang Opera tunes, such as "A Biography of the Patriotic General Yue Fei", "Paying Tribute to the Moon", "A Story of the White Rabbit", and "The Investiture of the Gods".
The genre was founded by Tan Baocheng in the city of Hengyang. In October, 1952, He played the lead role in "Zuida Shanmen", and was highly praised by national leaders like Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou Enlai, and artists like Mei Lanfang.
At present, due to the rise of modern culture, lack of funds, and loss of practitioners, the opera is in danger of dying out, so protective measures shall be taken as soon as possible, to keep this piece of cultural heritage alive.